Sivut kuvina

Opinion of the Court.

If patents

clusions from the evidence, and the railroad company and its grantees possessed such equities as would control the legal title vested in the State and its grantees, then resort could have been had to a court of equity for relief. Smelting Co. v. Kemp, 10+ U. S. 636.

In either aspect, the rights of the parties could have been determined by proceedings on behalf of the company or its grantees against the patentees of the State or their grantees; but instead of instituting such proceedings, the railroad company besieged the principal officers of the Land Department to ignore the action of their predecessors in office, and to exercise a power that had become functus officio.

Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad, 147 U. S. 175. had been issued to the railroad company, then the case would have been presented of two patents for the same land issued to two different parties, and, as pointed out in United States v. Beebe, the matter might properly be left to those parties to settle by personal litigation.

This bill was not filed until more than thirteen years after the cause of action had accrued, and twelve years after the first patent, and over five years after the last patent, was issued, by the State, while the selections and purchases thereunder were made long before.

Under the laws of California, an action may be brought by any person against another, who claims an estate or interest in real property adverse to him, for the purpose of determining such adverse claim; but no action can be brought for the recovery of real property or for possession thereof, or arising out of the title thereto, unless such action is commenced vithin five years after the cause of action shall have accrued ; and an action for relief not otherwise provided for must be commenced within four years. (Code Civ. Proc. Cal. SS 318, 319, 343, 738.)

Whether the statute be applied directly or by analogy, or the rule in equity founded upon lapse of time and staleness of claim, the delay and laches here are fatal to the maintenance of the suit.

The ineffectual pressure of the company on the Land De

Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.

partment furnished no excuse as between the real parties to this litigation, and the United States occupied no such relation to the case as to be entitled to the exemption from limitation and laches accorded to governments proceeding in their own right.

If through erroneous action of its officers, the bounty of the government in the particular instance has not reached those for whom it was intended, but has reached beneficiaries who were not intended to have these particular lands, the government may be relied on to effectuate its own designs, and to make good any moral obligation that rests upon it; but it had not such pecuniary or other interest in this litigation as entitled it to ask the suspension of the beneficent rules applied by the courts in the administration of justice between individuals. The decree is reversed and the cause remanded with a direc

tion to dismiss the bill.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD dissenting:

I am not able to agree with the majority of the court in their decision of this case. The lands in controversy fall within the limits of the grant to the Central Pacific Railroad Company; but by mistake and inadvertence of the Land Department they were listed to the State of California. Discovering its mistake, the department refused to issue to the company a patent for the lands to which it was entitled, until the erroneous listing to the State was set aside and annulled. The present bill was filed by the Attorney General for that purpose - and because of this proceeding and the delay of the company in waiting on its issue - instead of taking steps to enforce its rights at law for the land, this court now holds that it has lost the right to them; and that as the United States have no interest in the property, except to clear it of the cloud of the listings wrongly made, they cannot maintain the suit. The result, which produces simple injustice to the railroad company without wrong on its part, ought not in my judgment to be upheld.

Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.

In United States v. Hughes, 11 How. 568, a patent had been issued by mistake to Hughes in disregard of the prior rights of one Goodbee and of parties deriving title under him. The United States filed an information in the nature of a bill in equity against Hughes for the repeal and surrender of his patent, on the ground that its existence impaired the ability of the government to fulfil its engagements to Goodbee. The case was before this court originally on demurrer, and it was held that the court had jurisdiction to annul the patent thus improvidently issued. When here a second time (4 Wall. 232) the court, reaffirming its first decision, said: “When this case was here on deinurrer the patent was considered by the court to be a valid instrument, conveying the fee of the United States, and, until annulled, as rendering them incapable of complying with their engagement to Goodbee or his alienees. Whether regarded in that aspect, or as a void instrument, issued without authority, it prima facie passed the title, and, therefore, it was the plain duty of the United States to seek to vacate and annul the instrument, to the end that their previous engagement might be fulfilled by the transfer of a clear title, the only one intended for the purchaser by the act of Congress. The power of a court of equity, by its decree to vacate and annul the patent, under the circumstances of this case, is undoubted. Relief, when deeds

, or other instruments are executed by mistake or inadvertence of agents, as well as upon false suggestions, is a common head of equity jurisprudence.”

Upon this doctrine the court below proceeded in this case, in order that the government might discharge its obligation to the railroad company. It is a case where the government admits the error of its officers of the Land Department, acknowledges its obligation to correct it, and seeks to remove from its records the inadvertent and erroneous certification to the State of the lands, so that it may be able to issue a clear title to the railroad company, the right of that company having been finally determined, and thus carry out the pledge of its grant.

There was at no time an admission by the railroad company

Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.

of the correctness of the original action of the Land Department, or any acquiescence therein, but, insisting always upon the error of its proceedings, the company urged upon the department to correct them and issue to it the patent which the law authorized.

The case is not, in my judgment, within the doctrine of United States v. Beebe, 127 U. S. 338, which would exclude the interference of the United States, but is within the doctrine which there recognizes and upholds it. In that case the original claimant bad rested on the action of the Land Department, and sought the assistance of the United States only after the lapse of nearly half a century, and it was held that the interference of the government, after such a lapse of time, was simply a proceeding to avoid the laches of the claimant and to give to him the benefit of its exemption from them. But it declared that a suit of the United States would lie to set aside a patent where the government was under an obligation respecting the relief invoked. In this case the railroad company has not remained inactive, but upon a decision in its favor by the department, asked for its promised patent, which was only withheld because of the previous inadvertent and mistaken action of the government's officers in issuing a certificate to the State. In such circumstances the government, it seems to me, ought not to be debarred the right to correct the mistake of its officers, by which alone the intention of the law was defeated. I think the decree below should be affirmed.

Statement of the Case.





No. 211. Argued April 14, 17, 1893. - Decided May 15, 1893.

It is no proper business of a railway company as common carrier to foster

particular enterprises or to build up new industries; but, deriving its franchises from the legislature, and depending upon the will of the people for its very existence, it is bound to deal fairly with the public, to extend them reasonable facilities for the transportation of their per

sons and property, and to put all its patrons upon an absolute equality. It is no defence to an action against a railway company under the statute

of Colorado of 1885 to recover triple damages for an unjust discrimination in freights, to set up a contract for a rebate in case of furnishing a certain amount for transportation, without also alleging and showing

that such an amount was furnished. An unexplained, indefinite and unadjusted claim for damages arising from

a tort, which though put forward had never been pressed, is no defence

in such an action. Sundry objections to testimony are held to be without merit.

This was an action at law by the firm of Goodridge & Marfell, coal merchants, carrying on the business of mining coal at Erie, Colorado, and of selling the same at Denver, against the Union Pacific Railway Company, to recover triple damages, under a statute of Colorado, for an alleged unjust discrimination in freights upon coal from Erie to Denver.

The statute which was the basis of this action, together with a corresponding clause of the state constitution of Colorado, so far as the same are material to this case, are set forth in the margin.

i Constitution, Art. XV, Sec. 6: “ All individuals, associations, and corporations shall have equal rights to have persons and property transported over any railroad in this State, and no undue or unreasonable discrimination shall be made in charges or in facilities for transportaʻion of freight or

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